Provost Ian Baucom
by James A. Bacon
Last October University of Virginia Provost Ian Baucom briefed the Faculty Senate executive committee about a package of four multimillion-dollar academic initiatives that were in the works. The camera angle in the video recording shows him as a tiny, barely discernible figure at the far end of a long conference table. But his fast-clipped, staccato voice comes through loud and clear.
One initiative would address society’s “Grand Challenges” while another would build the university’s R&D infrastructure. Two others, largely geared to the pursuit of diversity, would set up a $20 million fund to aid the recruitment of graduate students and a $20 million fund to boost recruitment of “under-represented” faculty.
Members of the Faculty Senate were on board with the diversity programs, and Baucom felt at ease talking about them. “Behind [the faculty-recruitment initiative],” he said, “is the reaffirmation of the Audacious Futures Report to double the number of under-represented faculty. The president and I have been very clear that he stands by that goal.”
Four months later when the initiatives had moved further through the administrative pipeline, though, the Provost was less forthcoming with the Board of Visitors than he had been with the faculty. He described the Grand Challenges and R&D initiatives in considerable detail, but barely acknowledged the other two strategic priorities. He never explained that the faculty and graduate-student initiatives were designed in part to advance diversity.
The dichotomy in Baucom’s presentations raises important questions of governance at UVa. At a time when racial preferences in admissions and hiring are coming under increasing scrutiny, how much information about those practices is the Ryan administration withholding from the Board of Visitors? Who decides what to tell the Board? What power does the Board have to demand a fuller accounting? Continue reading
by James A. Bacon
More than 1,300 educational institutions across the country use software developed by Charlottesville-based Maxient, which bills itself as the “industry leader” and “most trusted provider for incident reporting and behavior records management.” Clients include most of Virginia’s public institutions of higher education.
The recent revelation in the CollegeFix and Wall Street Journal that the nation’s universities maintain consolidated files on student “behavior” is troubling to many’ The phrase “student conduct software” conjures images of “Big Brother” college administrators compiling dossiers on students who commit microaggressions or otherwise transgress woke codes on speech and behavior.
While it is becoming clear (1) that most colleges have developed the capability to build such dossiers and (2) that many have integrated them with their “bias reporting” systems, concrete incidents of abuse have yet to surface. The fact is, little is known about how the software is being used. Only now are questions being asked.
The Cadet, the independent student newspaper at the Virginia Military Institute, has taken an important first step in finding out. The Cadet submitted Freedom of Information Act requests to all public universities to determine how Maxient is being used. Some institutions — Longwood University and Mary Washington University — were particularly forthcoming. Some were not. Virginia Commonwealth University refused to hand over any documents or answer any questions, referring The Cadet to the university’s website.
(Jefferson Council FOIA requests reveal that the University of Virginia-Wise has a contract to use Maxient software. The University of Virginia itself has no contract. We are endeavoring to find out if UVa uses “student conduct” software at all, either provided by a different vendor or programmed in-house.)
The Longwood and Mary Washington responses to The Cadet FOIA show the kinds of incidents that at least two public universities are putting into their “student conduct” databases. Continue reading
by James A. Bacon
A General Assembly senate subcommittee has voted down a bill that would require public Virginia colleges and universities to report the number and salaries of employees in the field of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion. Sen. Bryce Reeves, R-Spotsylvania, had sponsored the bill, SB 1197, which also called for disclosure of sums spent on lobbying and for the recording and online posting of Board of Visitors board and committee meetings.
The Richmond Times-Dispatch coverage of the subcommittee meeting reported little discussion. The closest thing to an explanation for defeating the transparency measure came from Sen. Chap Petersen, D-Fairfax City. According to reporter Eric Kolenich:
Petersen questioned why colleges should be required to publish this information, which is already publicly available. Petersen called the bill “overly confrontational.”
That’s about as lame as it gets.
First point: No, actually, the information is not already publicly available — not readily. Continue reading
by James A. Bacon
In 2018, during the last months of the Teresa Sullivan presidency, the University of Virginia conducted an extensive survey — polling some 6,000 students, faculty and staff — to provide guidance for ongoing “institutional transformation.” In a key question, respondents were asked whether they agreed or disagreed with the statement that they felt “comfortable” with the “climate for diversity and inclusiveness.”
The mean score was a 4.0, which corresponded to an answer of “somewhat agree.” There was significant variation in the responses, however. Respondents identifying as Asian or Asian American felt the most comfortable at UVa. African-Americans felt the least comfortable, giving a mean score of 3.27, meaning that a majority disagreed with the statement with various degrees of intensity.
What do we make of that finding? Does the unhappy response of African-Americans support the view that UVa still suffered from systemic racism in 2018? Alternatively, does it reflect the fact that African-Americans were primed by the academic sub-culture to be acutely sensitive to what they perceived as slights, insults and injustices? Continue reading
by Walter Smith
The statue of Emil Faber, founder of Faber College (of Animal House fame), bears a quote, “Knowledge is good.” The reigning philosophy at the University of Virginia, by contrast, seems to be, “Only some knowledge is good.”
By way of introduction, let us note that the University of Virginia Alumni Association this fall conducted a survey that gauged the opinions of UVa alumni on a wide range of topics relating to the university. Of the approximately 25,000 alumni solicited, 1,319 responded. Among other highlights, the survey revealed that respect for university founder Thomas Jefferson and the Honor System has waned among younger alumni. The association published the findings in Virginia magazine.
Now consider a previous survey. In March 2018, in response to a request from a working group of UVa’s deans, the Board of Visitors approved the expenditure of $80,000 to conduct the 2017-18 University Climate Survey. “Climate Survey,” for your edification, has no connection to global warming. It is an academic term of art for measuring how schools are doing in their core missions. Many universities conduct similar surveys and publish them on their websites. Here is the University of Richmond’s. Here is Wake Forest’s. Here is UVa’s 2015 survey conducted shortly after the infamous Rolling Stone rape story.
You will not find a copy of the 2018 survey. The UVa administration has suppressed it. I tried to obtain the summary document through the Freedom of Information Act. UVa denied my request. I filed suit in Henrico County General District Court. I lost the initial round, but the fight is not over. Continue reading
… but you can’t see them! (Image credit: scwgl.org.uk)
by Walter Smith
Jim Bacon recently posted an article urging Governor-elect Youngkin to take full advantage of his higher-ed Board of Visitors appointments if he wishes to remain true to the education reform momentum that played a big part in his election. Bacon’s bits (pun intentional!) on the Boards as political plums with a go-along-to-get-along chumminess seemed dead on to me. In truth, academia is a different world. A far different world.
I came out of the corporate world. I worked as counsel in an NYSE company and a private equity company for large insurance brokerages. Governance from the academic world is something I intend to address in a complete, and fair, manner later, after gathering a great deal more info. In the meantime, permit me to share one example of how governance works — or doesn’t work — in academia.
After the 2017 Unite the Right riot in Charlottesville, the University of Virginia took many actions in response. One result was the Racial Equity Task Force report. Another was the formation of the Deans Working Group, headed by Risa Goluboff of the law school. Goluboff made four proposals to the Board in March of 2018, all of which were approved.*
One of those approvals allocated $80,000 to a “university-wide campus climate survey.” This survey, paid for by Virginia taxpayers, has never been released. Why? Given the BoV approval, does it not belong to the public? Continue reading
University of Virginia President Jim Ryan was awarded a $200,000 bonus during a closed session of the June 3 Board of Visitors meeting, The Cavalier Daily student newspaper has revealed. The university froze salaries for all employees during the early months of the COVID-19 epidemic, and Ryan and other senior officials took a 10% pay cut.
Said Rector Whittington Clement: “When the situation this year became clearer and we had a highly successful handling of COVID-19, we think the University did as well as, if not better, than any institution of higher learning in making the adjustments necessary to COVID-19, we thought that it was appropriate to give him a bonus.”
According to the terms of his 2018 employment contract, Ryan was entitled to a performance bonus of up to $100,000 based upon “achievement of mutually agreed upon performance objectives determined by the Board of Visitors and Mr. Ryan.” When Bacon’s Rebellion used the Freedom of Information Act in November 2021 to obtain those performance criteria, the university denied the request.
by Walter Smith
To the tune of “Unforgettable”…
Unequivocal you’re not at all
Unequivocal nowhere this fall
Like an empty phrase that runs from me
How your illusion does things to me
Never before has something been less
Unequivocal in every way
The University of Virginia formed the Free Expression and Free Inquiry Committee in February 2021. In May the Board of Visitors “unequivocally” endorsed the work of the Committee. Personally, I think the statement is a disgrace to Jefferson’s free speech legacy – I was hoping for more than the Chicago Principles and got a lukewarm, turgid, academic, PC jargon, kinda sorta saying UVA believes in free speech..
Does UVa really believe in free speech? We have seen that F— UVA is vigorously protected on the Lawn, but what about in the classrooms and on the Grounds? Are students and professors free to express their beliefs without fear of recrimination? Anecdotally, I don’t think they are. I have heard stories. and I have seen true harassment and shaming and threats for the “crime” of not agreeing with current woke ideology du jour. Continue reading
by James A. Bacon
Walter Smith, a University of Virginia alumnus, was miffed when UVa leadership mandated that all students must be vaccinated if they are to return to the university in the fall. His daughter, a UVa student, had caught the COVID-19 virus, lived through 10 days of quarantine, acquired natural immunities, and was at near-zero risk of spreading the virus. He saw no purpose in exposing her to whatever dangers might be associated with taking the vaccine. Moreover, he had concerns about health-privacy violations as well as philosophical objections of a civil-liberties nature.
You may disagree with Smith’s characterization of the vaccination mandate — which has been adopted at most other Virginia public universities, incidentally — as “un-American, un-scientific, [and] totalitarian.” But if you believe in transparency, then you should be concerned about what happened when Smith tried to ascertain UVa’s reasoning for the requirement.
News reports were worthless. In May Smith wrote UVa President Jim Ryan and Rector James Murray to ask the justification for the mandate. Ryan did not respond, but Murray did. He wrote: Continue reading